After going almost two years without a three-goal performance, it’s becoming “old hat” for the Blue Jackets.
Cam Atkinson turned the trick Friday night against the Blackhawks, his empty-netter in the final minute capping a 5-2 win at United Center, their seventh straight victory away from Nationwide Arena. With Scott Hartnell’s hat trick against the Ducks on Tuesday night, it’s the first time in franchise history that the Blue Jackets have recorded hat tricks in back-to-back games.
This game will technically fall into the category of a ‘comeback win’, but that hardly describes a first period in which the Jackets came out swinging for the fences and dominated early, an effort that would push them to yet another win over a Western Conference playoff team.
Yes, the Jackets' last eight victories have all been in comeback fashion and in most cases have featured a strong second period in which the Jackets recovered from a sluggish start. Tonight was the opposite, with the Jackets pouncing out of the gate with a quick-paced, 200-foot game that the Blackhawks did not seem ready for at the drop of the puck, And yet it was still the Blackhawks getting on the board first when Brandon Saad’s snipe from the top of the left circle flew past Sergei Bobrovsky’s left ear.
That was no issue with the early pace to the Jackets’ play, as they were more than ready to capitalize on the mistakes of a Blackhawks team surprisingly careless with the puck.
After a turnover on the Ryan Johansen goal, Duncan Keith had more trouble later in the first with the score tied 2-2. Kevin Connauton fired three pucks on goal in a span of 10 seconds, the final shot getting past Corey Crawford. That third opportunity was courtesy of Keith, who had collected a rebound in front of his net and misfired on an outlet pass to Saad that was inadvertently teed up for Connauton.
That sloppiness and the Jackets’ vertical attack, which clearly led to Atkinson being the most effective Jacket on the ice all night long, yielded a four-goal period for the visitors. The Blackhawks hadn’t surrendered four goals in a period since the final game of last season when they surrendered five in a period to the Predators -- 75 games ago.
PENALTY KILL PROWESS
The Jackets were under more duress in the second and third period than in recent games as well, with the Blackhawks swarming the net and out-attempting the Jackets 41-21 over the final two periods. But while Sergei Bobrovsky has been doing much of the heavy lifting in recent games to preserve late leads, tonight it was a much more complete defensive effort by the Jackets, surrendering only 17 shots of those 41 attempts in the final 40 minutes and frustrating the Blackhawks offensively.
The Jackets had struggled on the penalty kill to start the month of March, giving up power play goals in 11 of their 12 games this month heading into United Center. That wasn’t an issue for the Jackets, who went 5-for-5 on the kill and had better offensive opportunities on the kill than Chicago could produce and got the shorthanded goal from Atkinson. The Blue Jackets blocked 17 shots, as well.
A glance at team histories can lead one to over-analyze. We often look back at a team‘s background in certain cities and against certain teams and from that determine label “tough buildings” or teams that” have your number,” even if those lineups look drastically different over time. In any regard, the Jackets are breaking all the trends in March.
Heading into their three-game swing through Western Canada, the Jackets had not won in Edmonton or Vancouver since the 2009-10 season. The Jackets won both games, combining to score nine goals (not counting the shootout goal) in the unfriendly confines. The Jackets were winless in their last six games at United Center before Friday night, dating back to Feb. 18, 2011.
The Jackets have the opportunity to wrap up the Western Conference portion of their schedule by busting another travel drought on Saturday at Scottrade Center, where they are winless in their last three visits dating back to Mar. 31, 2012.